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Posted by: John_Hamilton on 06/01/2012 07:38 AM Updated by: John_Hamilton on 06/01/2012 07:41 AM
Expires: 01/01/2017 12:00 AM
:

Respirit – Week 19 “Do You Ever Feel Like the Luckiest Person on Earth?” By Catherine Lewallen

Murphys, CA...About a month ago, we discovered that I had two new tumors in my brain. It was perhaps a little disheartening. I definitely did not consider that turn of events to be ideal. But I am reminded by this development of how blessed I am. I am receiving the very best medical care possible. How many people discover their brain lesions too late? My oncologist tells me that some people have tumors the size of grapefruit before they start displaying symptoms that are persistent and troubling enough to finally send them to the doctor...



Even then, perhaps there is some delay during the diagnosis and referral process. We found my tumors while they were still only millimeters in size. Also, many brain lesions are certainly inoperable. Mine were relatively easy to treat. No scalpels. No anesthesia. We used a pinpoint form of radiation and are so confident with the results that the doctors have no reason to see me for at least a month. The side effects are tolerable. Quite simply, I’m just really really tired. But find me a single mom who owns her own 11-hour-a-day business who isn’t!

Because of the radiation, my doctors asked me to stop my other treatment regimen (vemurafenib, aka Zelboraf) for about a week. Last fall, I had the same procedure for a brain lesion, and I got to be the first person ever to undergo it who was taking Zelboraf. I guess somebody has to be first! With a disease like cancer, you definitely want your treatment choices to be on the cutting edge. At Stanford, I am certainly getting the best and the brightest. How many people lose a loved one and question the care they received? Or have regrets because they didn’t have access to some new drug that was bringing great results in other patients? As we speak, my doctors are exploring adding new treatments to my regimen. One of them is a “back up plan” in case my primary medication starts to lose its efficacy because my body builds up a tolerance. The other is not even approved by the FDA yet. We are looking around at drug trial options or possible “compassionate” use. That is a special loophole for extreme cases (such as mine) to have access to a drug that is very close to approval. It will further inhibit my DNA from the mutation that causes tumor growth. It’s like building a second dam in my cancer waterfall.

As I started back on my treatment three days following radiation, it was like taking it for the first time. I was bombarded with side effects as if I’d never taken it before. How did my body forget so quickly?! The weirdest problem is vivid, often horrible, dreams. I am also exhausted and have an upset stomach. Keep in mind, this is not your average upset stomach. Few “healthy” people can truly grasp what your average cancer patient endures on an average day. But as I got through a few difficult days, I was amazed by God’s grace.

Many people cannot tolerate this medication. Most people at least decrease the dosage. And still others don’t even get results from it. God has created a situation that makes all three possible for me. I can’t believe how I am able to “tough it out.” I never considered myself a trooper or courageous in any way before this disease struck. Maybe I had just never faced a crisis and had never needed to dig so deep. Or maybe I never realized how badly I wanted to keep on living. I think I could endure almost anything if it would grant me another day… another hour… with my son. When my doctor mentions the possibility of decreasing my dosage because the side effects (including impending liver damage) are troubling, I instantly say, “I can handle it.” Nine months later, I still proudly swallow 8 pills each day. I do not want to lose one milligram of this opportunity. And perhaps most important, it is working. I am enjoying almost complete response. About a hundred tumors have completely disappeared. A few stubborn ones remain, but they are not growing. Before Zelboraf, nothing worked. There was nothing that could combat my Stage IV Melanoma. Surgery removed all cancer, only for it to return immediately. High dose chemotherapy (IL-2) cost me two months, during which my cancer spread by at least double. On Zelboraf, I get to enjoy hearing my nine-year-old praise God every day in his prayers: “I thank You that my mom’s medicine is working.”

I love the way God has moved in my life through this disease. I see so many people struggle particularly with the peace of forgiveness. I can’t even remember the last time I was even mad! It is impossible to “sweat the small stuff” anymore. I love encountering grumpy, hostile people. It’s such a challenge and an opportunity to cheer them up! It puts a whole new spin on going places I used to avoid (like WalMart!). I see wives snapping at their husbands or fathers shouting at their children and just feel so sorry for them. That is not to say that I don’t discipline Jonah, because it is still my job. But I am so eager to see the people I love that I couldn’t possibly fill our time with anger or disappointment.

I am also being completely surrounded by opportunities. Opportunities to minister to others in ways I was never able when I was a normal healthy person. I get to write and deliver speeches and meet new people. I get to describe the way God has intervened and saved me, though doctors said to get my affairs in order and maybe do Christmas early last year. I get to live life in a way few can. Hearing your days are numbered doesn’t really affect you unless you believe it! I’ve also experienced clinging to God with every ounce of my strength, because there is nothing else. Medical science has thrown their hands up, saying my disease is incurable. They’ve only promised to stretch my life as much as possible and provide comfort when necessary. God promises much more. He has the power to heal me if that is His plan. He doesn’t need to “stretch” my life. He has already determined its length and what will happen each moment therein. He will not just comfort me through the physical pain, but instead every day and every night in every way.

I recently saw a movie in which a family endured a horrible tragedy. Their family soon fell apart. They were emblazoned with pain and anger. The tragedy continued to hurt them and ruin their lives even many years later. I cannot imagine allowing this cancer to do that to my family. Why would I ruin an already challenging life with a bad attitude? We all are faced with crises, but we are not victims. We are promised to have trouble in this life. Nobody knows when or how that trouble will come. The only aspect we can pretend to control is how we react. Therein lies the courage. Therein lies faith.

Editors Note...Catherine's fight with cancer and the manner in which she has fought it publicly has been an inspiration to many. If you would like some context and a more personal look at her battle you can find it on the Caring Bridge Website Here! We would like to welcome Catherine as one of our contributors and we hope her story can help you along your journey in life.


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